How Do You Select a Candidate in the September 10th Democratic Primary? Is Mayoral Control the Core Issue? and, BTW, How Should NYC Schools Be Governed?

At each mayoral forum the candidates are asked, “Do you support mayoral control?” If the candidate answers, “No” the audience, usually made up of parents and teachers, applauds.

Around the world schools are run by the federal or regional government authorities – with no parental or community involvement – maybe a school council at the school level. Curriculum are national, teacher union contracts are national or regional. In a French school, a lycee, the same lesson is taught on the same day throughout the country. High stakes tests determine placement in secondary schools and colleges.

Education in the United States is governed by 16,000 elected school boards under rules set by the states.

In the late sixties urban policies advocated giving communities as much authority over schools as possible. If local voters and parents had “ownership” of schools communities would create policies at the local level to assure improvements in academic achievement. The decentralization law created 32 semi-autonomous school boards, elected in proportional representation elections with the authority to hire superintendents, hire principals and determine budget priorities. The seven-member salaried, staffed central board – one appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor selected a chancellor and set overall city policy.

By any measure decentralization failed in the poorest neighborhoods in the city – the neighborhoods that were supposed to benefit the most suffered from extremely low voter turnout – elections dominated by local electeds and special interest pockets – chaos and corruption in the poorest districts reigned while higher income districts thrived with high levels of parent involvement.

Esmeralda Simmons, a Dinkins appointee described borough president appointees who spent their time wheeling and dealing political “contracts,” a totally politicized board unconcerned with education policy.

Mayoral control began in the mid-nineties in Boston – a close mayor-superintendent (Menino-Payzant) relationship that was praised across the board

In an often-quoted State of the City speech in 1996, delivered in the auditorium of the troubled Jeremiah Burke High School, Mayor Thomas M. Menino challenged residents to “judge me harshly” if his overhaul of the city’s schools failed. It was one of the most passionate speeches he made in his two-decade quest to be known as the “education mayor.”

As Menino prepares to leave office next January, he can proudly point to an array of impres¬sive accomplishments: historically low dropout rates, skyrocketing standardized test scores in many grades, full-day kindergarten available for all 5-year-olds, rising college completion rates among Boston high school graduates, and ¬extended days in dozens of schools, to name just a few.

As the mayoral control system moved across the nation, in 2007, Kenneth Wong, a Georgetown University professor examined mayor control. In his book, “The Education Mayor” he concludes,

… although mayoral control of schools may not be appropriate for every district, it can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance.

In New York City, in 2013, mayoral control is associated with the unpopular policies and personality of Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Unfortunately the mayoral forum moderators do not follow up – a “sound bite” and applause is not a policy.

If you oppose mayoral control, what do you favor?

Should we move to the LA system – an elected board representing geographical areas?

In the current round of school board elections in LA millions of dollars are pouring in from around the country – most of the dollars from “pro- (de)form interests.

Should the Mayor appoint a majority of the seats? Should the City Council, the Borough Presidents and the Mayor appoint members with no group having a majority?

Would a divided board lead to internal wheeling and dealing returning to a totally politicized Board?

Should all appointees serve fixed terms?

Should we consider a CUNY, SUNY model?

A majority of the CUNY board is appointed by the Governor with the “advice and consent” of the NYS Senate – a minority appointed by the Mayor – the president of the Faculty Senate serves on the Board. The Board meets six times a year with duties specified in detailed bylaws. The Chancellor, Mathew Goldstein has sweeping powers. The SUNY board trustees are appointed by the Governor with the “advice and consent” of the NYS Senate, also meets six times a year with clearly enunciated powers and selects a chancellor, Nancy Zimpher ( also with extensive powers.

Should a board select a chancellor and grant the chancellor wide authority, and restrict itself to policy decisions?

As SUNY and CUNY trustees, should the central board have extensive backgrounds in other leadership positions?

Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu in an excellent report, “No More Rubber Stamps” calls for a screening panel to vet candidates and limit appointees to those candidates.

With four months until the September 10th primary Christine Quinn leads, far below the 40% threshold,

• 26% Christine Quinn
• 15% Anthony Weiner
• 12% John Liu
• 11% Bill de Blasio
• 11% Bill Thompson
• 2% Sal Albanese
• 1% Other
• 22% Undecided

Among registered Democrats in New York City including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, if the Democratic primary were held today, here is how the contest would stand without Anthony Weiner in the race:

• 30% Christine Quinn
• 15% Bill de Blasio
• 14% Bill Thompson
• 11% John Liu
• 2% Sal Albanese
• 2% Other
• 26% Undecided

If no candidate receives 40% of the vote in the September 10th Democratic primary the top two vote-getters will “runoff” in an election held on September 24th.

New Yorkers have yet to focus on the election – in 2009 Bill Thompson was 20% behind the Mayor a month before the election and closed to 5%…

It will probably not be until the waning days in August and the days leading up to September 10th that voters will focus.

With an excellent chance of a September 24th runoff can the Democratic winner stumble? Not according to the current polling, however, if the Working Families and the Independence Parties supported other candidates – four names on the November 5th ballot, who can tell…

Remember what did Winston Churchill said about democracy, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” or, if you’re a little more pessimistic, another relevant Churchill quote, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” then again maybe Abraham Lincoln got in right, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
― Abraham Lincoln

3 responses to “How Do You Select a Candidate in the September 10th Democratic Primary? Is Mayoral Control the Core Issue? and, BTW, How Should NYC Schools Be Governed?

  1. As usual, Ed, you have given us a thoughtful essay. Cognizant of the history of school governance in New York City, the UFT’s School Governance Committee came up with a recommendation very close to the one published by mayoral candidate John Liu. It was ratified by the UFT’s Delegate Assembly. It keeps mayoral control, but with much greater checks and balances. It involves the Community Edication Councils and calls for fixed terms for members of the Panel for Educational Policy and others. It rejects waivers for candidates for Chancellor. As Diane Ravitch pointed out in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, either community control or mayoral control can work, or not, depending on the individuals involved. We would like to make the system on that is “individual” proof. We can thank Mayor Bloomberg for teaching us that lesson!


  2. Here are the questions I want answers to before any endorsement is given: !- What will you do to addres de facto segregation in the N.Y.C. School System? 2- What are the criteria you will use to select the next chancellor? 3- With whom will you consult during the process? 4- How do you intend to define the power structure and the decision making priocess between you and the next chancellor? When we see the answers to these questions we can decide which candidate shares our values and our vision.


  3. Paul
    Unfortunately candidates learn that the “great unwashwed” who elect candidates have short attention spans … 10-15 seconds … no matter the question the candidate has a practiced brief response, and, longer, in-depth responses are open to attacks by their opponents … so … Paul … I absolutely agree with your questions, and, think you’ll have to cast your ballot without answers.


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